Nothing quite prepared me for these giant trees. I’ve seen so many images of them (and yes, we’ve all seen the movie) but to actually wander through the temples and see trees sprouting from stones is an eerie site. These temples were once thriving with people; then they were forgotten, and consumed by the jungle.
Some, like Angkor Wat, have been restored; some partially restored, others have been left largely the way they were discovered. Forgotten by the world, some temples became hideouts for the Khmer Rouge, while others are still being cleared of mines. But I couldn’t help but wonder – how many more of these temples lie hidden in the jungles of Cambodia?
It was still dark as we made our way through the jungle. Tree roots spread thick fingers across our way, and the noises of the night scuttled round us. Most tourists reach Angkor Wat via the front entrance, where a grand causeway stretches over a wide moat. Instead,we entered from the east, (unusually for Khmer temples, Angkor Wat faces the setting sun, traditionally the symbol of death.) Despite the aid of pocket torches we stumbled over fallen logs and mossy stones before suddenly the temple rose before us: the grandeur of a world long gone.
An old lady stopped me as I left the market. Between wats my guide had made a detour to his home village. In the middle of the local market, I met his aunt, sister-in-law and baby nephew. Amidst the heat an army of flies filled the air. Everything, it seemed, was for sale, from fruit and vegetables of vibrant colour, freshly slaughtered meat, bowls of blood tofu (large slabs of quivering freshly congealed blood), clothes, cooking pans, washing detergent – anything and everything was on display.
The elderly lady was tiny, bent and wrinkled. All she had seen in her seventy years was written on her face. War, hunger, bombings, the terror of the Khmer Rouge; she had survived them all, still worked her stall in the markets, and could boast a gaggle of great-grandchildren. She was fascinated by my daughter, fifteen years old and easily twice her height.
As we climbed back into our van, a local farmer went by in his bullock-pulled cart. Like the occasional elephant, bullocks have right of way. As the increasingly bumpy road wound deeper into the jungle, we passed local villages surrounded by rice paddies, the vibrant green dotted with water buffalo basking in the sunshine, and farmers busily at work. Continue Reading →